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Tilling Your Soil 'Till It's Workable

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By Steve Aegerter, Master Gardener, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

You don't have to be a kid to enjoy digging in the dirt. Gardeners do it all the time, but it's not just fun and games.  Digging in the dirt can actually improve your plants' performance over time.

Regular tilling and amending of your soil will make it easier to work with as years go by.  You will notice that it holds water at an approprite rate and that is supports helthy plant growth.

Preparing garden soil is a long-term, continual process.  It can't be done in one growing season.  Fall may be the best time to begin soil improvement, but it's also possible to begin now.

Over the top of your garden soil or planting beds, spread an inch or two of peat moss or composted materials. If possible, leave this for a couple of weeks. Then rototill or space in this top dressing. This fall, spread an inch or two of shredded leaves or plant material over the soil; rototill in before the ground freezes. Repeat this process for a few growing seasons and you'll have soil with a workable tilth that could just be the envy of the neighborhood.

If you want soil with a workable texture that extends to a significant depth, try double-digging it. For example, divide a 4-foot-by-8-foot bed into equal parts of 12 to 18 inches-- whatever you can comfortable dig out with your shovel.

Dig out the first shovelful of dirt and place it in a wheel barrow.  In the trench where the soil was removed, turn that soil over in its place. From the top level of dirt, dig out another shovelful of dirt and place it over the section that was double-dug. Continue the process until the entire bed is completed, using the soil in the wheel barrow to fill the last hole.

Double-digging can be easier if you use a shovel to turn the top part of the soil and a garden fork for the deep turning.

Those who garden in raised beds will find that loosened soil compacts over time.   By double-digging in raised beds every two to three years, you'll significantly improve the soil structure.  Using peat moss or compost, amend the soil as you dig to maintain its looseness.

For more information about improving soil, contact your county office of the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.

Graphic courtesy of the Soil Quality Institute

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010